Employee engagement surveys and why they matter

How can you tell what your employees think of their work? It’s simple: Ask them

The best way to measure employee engagement is with a simple survey.
WeWork 6001 Cass Ave in Detroit. Photograph by WeWork

Of all the performance metrics it’s possible to track, employee engagement can sometimes be the most revealing. Year-over-year profits may be up and customers may be showering you with five-star reviews, but flagging morale can shake the very foundations of a business.

So how can you know how your employees feel about their work? You have to ask them. Employee engagement surveys are one of the best ways to keep a finger on the pulse of your workforce, allowing you to identify problems and spot potential issues before they turn into something more serious.

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In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how employee engagement surveys work and why they’re so important for growing businesses, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of conducting them. But first, let’s define what we mean when we talk about employee engagement surveys.

What is an employee engagement survey?

An employee engagement survey is a tool used to measure how motivated, involved, and happy employees are with their work. They can take many forms, but most employee surveys tend to gather responses by posing simple questions, which the respondent can either agree or disagree with on a scale of one to five. Some surveys will also throw a few open-ended questions into the mix for more detailed feedback.

Structuring surveys in this way allows the results to be easily collated and processed in aggregate, so that the final data reveals useful insights into how employee engagement could be improved across teams, departments, and the entire business.

Why employee engagement surveys are important for a company

According to the Institute for Employment Studies, engaged employees are more likely to be invested in their work and are less likely to quit. They perform better at tasks than their disengaged colleagues and act as advocates for the business. The study also found that engaged employees feel happier and have a greater sense of attachment to their organization.

Moreover, employee engagement surveys are an effective way to take the pulse of your workforce. While holding one-on-one meetings with staff and paying attention to the general atmosphere around the office can suggest that everybody is satisfied at work, a well-conducted and anonymized survey can reveal a very different mood than the one you believe exists.

Advantages of conducting employee engagement surveys

Companies should want to know how their employees are feeling at work. Not only does having this information allow a business to identify and address the needs of its workers, but tracking employee engagement is the first step toward boosting employee retention and increasing performance.

The simple act of conducting a survey also sends a clear signal to employees that you value their feedback, as long as their responses and suggestions are acknowledged and implemented. 

Regular surveys also provide an invaluable insight into how your organization is performing from one year to the next. For example, if a company launched an employee retention plan by offering management training for staff, an employee engagement survey can accurately measure how effective this policy has been.

Disadvantages of conducting employee engagement surveys

A poorly conducted employee engagement survey can make things worse. If people don’t see any tangible results from their answers, or feel that their responses have been ignored by management, they can end up feeling less valued and less trusting of their employer. 

Even when a survey is conducted anonymously, many employees will still be wary of being too negative in their responses for fear of reprisal. If questions are too personal or intrusive, a survey can make employees feel like they’re being spied on.

An employee engagement survey can also create a sense of expectation in the minds of respondents if it’s misleadingly phrased. If an employee engagement survey poses questions about working more flexibly or introducing certain types of office perks, for example, respondents will naturally expect to see those changes happen and will be disappointed if they don’t.

Types of employee surveys

There are countless different ways to survey employees, each designed to measure particular aspects of how people engage with the organization, with colleagues, and with one another. 

A survey doesn’t have to follow one specific type, but it can combine multiple approaches to ensure that it returns the most useful feedback possible. Here are some of the most commonly used types:

  • Employee engagement surveys. These are used to measure how motivated and involved employees are with their work. This can include how aligned they feel with their company’s goals, how proud they are to work for the company, and how committed they are to their work.
  • Employee attitude surveys. These are used to gauge employee attitudes toward their work, their colleagues, and their managers. If employees are not satisfied with the work they’re doing, they’ll likely be less engaged, so measuring employee attitudes can be an effective way to identify any areas that need improvement.
  • Employee satisfaction surveys. These are used to measure how happy employees are with their work. This can include how happy they are with their salary, their workload, and their company’s culture.
  • Employee retention surveys. These are used to measure how likely employees are to stay with the company in the long term, and they tend to focus on how satisfied employees are with their career development opportunities and compensation, and their overall satisfaction with their role.

Examples of questions on employee engagement surveys

Common questions on employee engagement surveys include:

  • Do you feel like you have the opportunity to improve your skills?
  • Do you feel like your work is meaningful?
  • Do you feel like you have good work-life balance?
  • Do you feel like your colleagues are supportive?
  • Do you feel like your manager is approachable?

How often should you complete employee surveys?

The frequency of employee engagement surveys will vary depending on the size of the organization and the type of work being done. Some industries naturally experience higher rates of turnover, which make regular surveys of the workforce an ever more useful means of tracking the effectiveness of retention policies.

In general, employee surveys should be conducted at least once a year to ensure that employees’ needs are being met, and that any issues are being identified and remedied. Conducting surveys more frequently than this can help to call out problems before they start, and hopefully prevent them from spiraling into something bigger.

Best practices for employee engagement surveys

  • Keep them short. Employee surveys should be brief and to the point to avoid boring the respondents or overwhelming them with too much information. Let respondents know how much time it will take to complete the survey before they begin—most employee engagement survey software can estimate this automatically.
  • Make them anonymous. Employee surveys should be anonymous to encourage honest responses. Keep in mind that even when answers aren’t attributed to specific individuals, it might still be possible to determine somebody’s identity by the answers they give. This can leave some respondents unwilling to share their true feelings.
  • Use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions encourage employees to share their opinions and ideas. By allowing respondents to express themselves in their own words, they have the chance to contextualize their answers and provide even more useful insights.
  • Be clear about what you’re measuring. Don’t try to disguise the purpose of the survey. Let employees know exactly what information you’re trying to measure, what changes it could lead to, and why it’s important to the business. This will help employees to better understand the purpose of the survey and the value of their responses.

Steve Hogarty is a writer and journalist based in London. He is the travel editor of City AM newspaper and the deputy editor of City AM Magazine, where his work focuses on technology, travel, and entertainment.

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